Apple Line-Waiters Stoking Their Self-Esteem?
Let me admit at the outset that I did join the iPhone Day throngs several times over the last five years to be among the first to get my hands on Apple’s new toy. I could rationalize it all, of course, as “work-related,” but even I didn’t quite believe that as the blue-shirts handed out water and clapped at the line forming outside their mall store. Within seconds I went from feeling part of a ritual to feeling foolish and a cog in someone else’s marketing machinations. Never again, I vowed. As much as I fault the Samsung ads mocking the Apple line-sitters for overplaying the point with a ham-hand, I am with them in spirit.
If nothing else, iPhone lines have become a blog ritual that needs stoking. Photos of the growing throngs become tech site fodder days before the launch. This year one analyst even did a spot analysis comparing the length of lines for the iPhone 5 to last year’s lines for the iPhone 4S.
Some researchers are arguing that line-waiting for a coveted consumer good is actually a socially significant ritual. Consultant Adam Hanft of The Hanft Project tells MarketWatch this week that these lines illustrate how shopping is a “collective event” that gives the consumer a much-needed “social proof” that their attraction to a bright shiny object is shared and validated by the crowd.
Seton Hall professor Daniel Ladik adds that the line-waiting ritual may also be a direct response to a culture of abundance. Consumers crave exclusivity and scarcity in age of limitless choice and endless supply. Apple craftily feeds the need.
That line-waiters are engaging in a kind of irrational behavior is beside the point. Black Friday line-waiters, for instance, often are clamoring for “deals” that are not really deals. Apple iPhone stalkers could have had the solitary experience of setting their alarms so they could hit the Apple Web site in the early morning hours when the phone was first put up for pre-order. Let AMEX enjoy whatever weird thrill comes with the annual ritual.
Like all rituals, however, the line–waiting itself becomes an emblem that gets hijacked, prodded, mocked, and ultimately discredited. One would think. But Black Friday is still with us after all of these years. Silly as it may seem, the predictable process of waiting on line for the latest “rare object” in the consumer toy box is another example of how much an age of virtual connectivity and advanced gadgetry really is being driven by the most fundamental and timeless of human drives -- to connect.